Supporting the continuum of continuous improvement

Did you know that continuous improvement is a science? Yes, that’s right. Continuous improvement is an applied science which uses innovation, iterative cycles of testing and scaling to drive learning about what practice, organisational and system changes deliver real improvements in different contexts. Like other sciences, continuous improvement requires discipline and a continual commitment to reflecting, evolving and fine-tuning our practices based on feedback and new evidence.

Continuous improvement is also a continuum. Often the scale of the problem will influence the size of our response, and many times we practice continuous improvement without knowing it. For example, moving office supplies to improve access for staff, or changing the background colour of a PowerPoint presentation to ensure people with visual impairments can read the slides. These more incremental changes are just ‘what needs to be done’ in response to the needs of the context.

However, there are other challenges that require us to investigate further. To slow our thinking and methodically diagnose the problem so we can select, test and implement new solutions. The size of these types of problems means we are more likely to require access to different data sources and to work collaboratively to make changes to daily practices as well as systems and processes.

Access to, and availability of data to inform continuous improvement in our mental health and addiction services is growing. In this issue, we profile new data web tools from the Ministry of Health and Mārama Real-Time Feedback, as well as link you to upcoming events designed to connect people across Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally to knowledge and information that supports the ongoing transformation of our health system.

While some improvement solutions are quick and easy, some will always need more in-depth analysis and resource intensive responses. Either way, both types of change require us to ask the question – has the change resulted in real improvement? And, how do we know?

When it comes to improving mental health and addiction services for tāngata whai ora and their whānau, the answers to these questions lie with them. Continually testing the impact of our changes and fine tuning these with the people who feel their impact most directly is critical as we forge forward in our aspirations for an Aotearoa New Zealand health system where informed continuous improvement and collective action drives better wellbeing for all.

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